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“Mordecai Shehori plays Dances and Visions” = Works of LULLY, DEBUSSY, RACHMANINOV, CHOPIN, SAINT-SAENS – Cembal d’amour

Mordecai Shehori plays Dances and Visions” = LULLY: Air tendre; Courante; Allemande; Sarabande; Gigue; DEBUSSY: Reflets dan l’eau; CHOPIN: Bolero in A Minor; Op. 19; RACHMANINOV: Etude-Tableau in A Minor, Op. 39, No. 6; Etude-Tableau in D Minor, Op. 39, No. 8; Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5; Prelude in C Minor, Op. 23, No. 7; “Daisies” in F Major, Op. 38, No. 3; Etude-Tableau in D Major, Op. 39, No. 9; SAINT-SAENS (arr. Liszt and Horowitz): Danse Macabre – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour CD 173, 63:42 [www.cembaldamour.com] ****:

This most recent release from pianist and producer Mordecai Shehori (rec. Las Vegas, January 2014) for my review has the added benefit of my having witnessed most of these works’ being performed when Shehori appeared in the Bay Area, Saturday, 16 November 2013. Shehori opens here with a group by Jean-Baptiste Lully, his Suite de Pieces (c. 1660), five dances whose emotional tenor Shehori restrained in an awesome demonstration of dynamic control, rarely exceeding a mezzo-forte, even in the course of relatively brisk tempos. His Air tendre basks in a music-box sonority, followed by a lively, polyphonic Courante. The Allemande exhibits a ‘galant’ sensibility and extraordinary, even motion. The Spanish Sarabande assumes a dignified, martial sensibility, while the concluding Gigue provides Shehori a toccata in the manner of a perpetuum mobile in brilliant keyboard figuration.

The music of Claude Debussy, the Reflets dans l’eau from Images, Book I (1905) emerges as a kind of rondo-form on pentatonic and whole-tone scales, providing Shehori a mesmerizing opportunity to create a literal “wash” of colors, erotic in suggestive fragments, suddenly explosive, then dramatically silent. If Shehori holds the Gieseking model in his mind for Debussy colors, the approach seems fairly similar and just as sensuous.

Chopin’s rousing Bolero in A Minor, Op. 19 (1834), derives its inspiration, according to Mr. Shehori, from Chopin’s infatuation with a fifteen-year-old aristocratic girl he had met at a Rossini opera performance, for “Chopin was always pursuing women beyond his reach.” Glittery and plastic, the performance proffers us bravura and reflection in one piece, yet never calling attention to Shehori as a prima donna. Its middle section evolves into a lovely nocturne combined with elements of a colorful and arioso impromptu, then returns to the sparkling roulades and ornaments that even the Lully experience in French music had established as essential and organic to the vocal line. Long a favorite of the late Mieczylaw Horszowski, the Chopin Bolero permits Shehori to project its alternately bombastic and intimate lines.

Serge Rachmaninoff has his virtuoso personality explored in a group six pieces, including three Etudes-Tableaux, two Preludes, and the transcription of his own song, “Daisies.” Shehori adopts a generally slow tempo for these pieces, though they do not lack for color and resonant drama. The A Minor Etude Tableau, Op. 39. No. 6 has been often characterized as an expression of “Little Red Riding Hood,” replete with the voracious wolf. By the end of the fiery piece, Shehori negotiates its fierce agogics and metric tempests with a huge maw that likely took our young heroine for dinner. Those Etudes in D Minor (No. 8) and D Major (No. 9), respectively, become huge labyrinthine tone-poems rife with erotic nostalgia, tragic lyricism, and Russian bells. The G Major Prelude, Op. 32, No. 5 — a Benno Moiseiwitsch specialty — sings most gracefully for Shehori, while the C Minor Prelude, Op. 23, No. 7 offers a study in double notes with the muscular solemnity of a concerto-movement.

The grand-finale proper to this recital — the same Shehori had offered in late October 2013 in Winnipeg and in Palo Alto — comes by way Franz Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz, in their monumental transcription of Saint-Saens’ song and symphonic poem Danse Macabre (1872; rev. 1874). Shehori told us in Palo Alto us to imagine “Halloween at midnight,” and then engages a series of the repeated note D for witching-hour chimes that invoke the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass in its several guises. Shehori’s Steinway soon imitates xylophone effects, bells, and the full orchestra as Horowitz and Liszt added cadenzas of sweeping power to the original text. Often polyphonic, the writing demands that Shehori play elaborate stretti or “piles” of layered sound, and fugatos of brisk power that alternate with the main melody that sings legato, a transposed operatic aria.

Intelligence fused to poetic virtuosity mark every note of this thoughtful program, as tasteful as it is consummately realized. A joy for the ear and mind, this recital comes heartily recommended.

—Gary Lemco

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